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Education

UVU Autism Center to Fill Growing Need

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Andrea Smardon
/
KUER
Breaking ground for UVU's Center for Autism

One in every 58 children in Utah is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. To meet the rising need for resources, Utah Valley University broke ground Thursday on a new 8.4 million dollar autism center.

It will be called The Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism, and it will be housed in the Cole Nellesen building. As Melisa Nellesen stood on the ground where the building will be, it didn’t take long for the tears to come.

“Sorry, I should have brought Kleenex up here,” she said. Nellesen told the story of taking her son Cole home from the hospital back in 1998, knowing that he was different, getting the diagnosis that he was autistic, and the challenges of finding therapy and education. She says this new center means Utah parents and their autistic children will not have to struggle in isolation.

“Our hope and dream is that this center will be a beacon of hope and that it will be successful in training an army of soldiers for all of us as we help our families face the challenges of autism,” Nellesen said.  

The Center for Autism will have preschool and elementary laboratory classrooms, therapy rooms and specially designed playgrounds. It will provide training for UVU students, community partners, educators, and families. UVU President Matthew Holland said the center fills an unmet need.

“This has really just come in response from hearing over and over again from community leaders there’s an issue here, is there anything you can do to help, and so we’ve gone to work to figure out the best way to help, and I think we’ve found it,” Holland said.  

He said he’s been overwhelmed by support from the community, and the funds raised for the center come entirely from private donations. The new building is expected to open at this time next year.

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